Stylish Airports: We Crawled Changi Airport, The Best Airport In The World—And It Was Worth It
So last December, I flew to Singapore—just to experience the best airport in the world. More accurately, an Australia-Philippines flight that will let me enjoy a pretty decent layover in Singapore. Does it live up to the hype? Well, see for yourself. But I won’t spend an extra ten hours in an already long flight just to go home empty-handed.
And so I bring to you the ultimate cheat guide to making the most out of Changi Airport.
What to expect from Changi Airport
For the 6th consecutive year, Changi Airport was rated the World's Best Airport by Skytrax. It serves more than 100 airlines flying to more than 400 cities around the globe, that every 80 seconds a plane flies or lands on the runways of the airport. It has four terminals in total, the fourth one having just opened in October 2017.
What to expect from Changi Airport, you ask? Well, a lot. From amazing food and shopping choices, to theaters, installations, and even an outdoor pool, I tell you, you won’t run out of things to do at Changi. In my totally-not-overcompensating words, it’s a city inside a city. And what’s more interesting, it’s a city where hundreds of nationalities and cultures meet to create a bustling airline that will bring to you wherever your heart desires.
Landing at Changi Airport
I arrived at Changi from Darwin, Australia at 6:00PM in the evening and as a Filipino passport holder, I will be granted a visa on arrival at the immigration gate—given I don’t look like I’ll cause trouble in their precious city. Immigration can take a little longer than expected, especially since officers had to issue visas to the non-residents. As you line up, don’t forget to bring a filled-up immi card that you have to give to the officer, and a book to keep you company as you wait your turn.
After immigration, that’s when it dawns on you how huge Changi really is. If you’re used to our crappy NAIA airports, nothing can compare to the sparkle and shine that envelops Changi Airport. It’s also easy to navigate around because of the huge signs that point to key destinations inside the airport, and the digital maps scattered around.
One of your must-carrys when exploring Changi is the Changi Airport app, which comes with a map of everything that’s inside the airport, and a reminder to let you know your gate and departure time of your flight. The airport also has an excellent internet so you won’t run out of data to post selfies or Instagram stories. After a quick fast.com, it pinged at 68 mbps. Talk about fast!
Preparing for The Crawl
Crawling the whole Changi Airport will take at least 5 hours. That’s photo-taking, attraction-hopping, and a lot of walking included. Shopping time sold separately. This is why it’s advisable to wear comfortable clothes. Bring out your jacket if you’re easily cold because it can get cold in some parts, and wear comfortable footwear because there will be a lot of walking around.
One of the best things about Changi Airport is that it’s alive 24/7. Specialty and signature stores are closed from 12 a.m. to 6 a.m., so keep your shopping to normal people hours. But a number of duty-free stores, drugstores, and even cafes and restaurants are open round the clock. All attractions and services stay open, too, so you can virtually spend 24 hours inside Changi and never really run out of things to do.
Unlike most airports where check-in for your flight opens 2 to 3 hours before boarding, you can check-in and drop your baggage for your flight at Changi 24 hours before. This is because most of the interesting stuff you’ll want to check out at the airport is inside the transit area, meaning you have to go through check-in and security to access them. If you’re not going out of the airport, you don’t have to worry about all of this things because you’re going to be staying inside the transit area as you wait for your next flight. But if you’re crawling Changi Airport after you’ve toured Singapore right before you fly back out, you’ll have to go through the whole airport shebang. After check-in, take note that once you go through security check, you won’t be able to go back to the public area. So if you’re planning to try The Slide, which is Singapore's tallest slide at 12 meters high, visit these at the public area before security check.
What to do, what to see, and where to go
The transit area of Changi airport is where all the magic happens. From mini cinemas and art installations to indoor and outdoor gardens, there’s a lot of things for every kind of traveler.
All four terminals inside Changi can be accessed through foot, shuttle buses, or the Skytrain, depending from which terminal you’re coming from and where you’re heading to. For transferring between terminals 1, 2, and 3, you can hop on the free Skytrain service that operates from 5 a.m. to 2:30 a.m. If you happen to be at Changi from 2:30 a.m. to 5 a.m. when the Skytrain is on maintenance, you can ride the shuttle bus service instead or walk for leg exercise.
Terminal 4 is a little bit tricky because it’s the newer terminal and can only be accessed via the free shuttle bus at terminal 2 that leaves every 10 minutes from 5:30 a.m. to 12 a.m., and every 20 minutes from 12 a.m. to 5:30 a.m.
Again, downloading the Changi Airport app makes it easier to go around the airport and transfer through the terminals so download that bad boy. For figuring out which terminal to visit first, check which terminal your flight is departing from and visit that last. And always make sure to access terminal 4 after exploring terminal 2 because that’s the only terminal servicing the buses to the newest terminal.
The Changi Airport website has a complete list of all attractions, services, and facilities in each terminal. But the list can get very intimidating. For the purposes of this cheat guide, we’re narrowing down the best attractions worth your time, categorized per terminal.
One of Changi’s various rooftop attractions, the Cactus Garden is great for nature-lovers and those looking to de-stress before or after a flight. Get up close with more than 100 species of cacti and arid plants from the deserts and dry areas of America, Asia, and Africa; order a beer or a drink, and relax under the shade of umbrellas; or take a cigarette break.
Rooftop swimming pool
There’s only a handful of airports around the world that has a swimming pool and, of course, Changi has to be one. Changi’s rooftop pool is located at Aerotel Airport Transit Hotel so you have to pay a minimal fee if you’re not checked in with Aerotel. But more than the pool, it has a poolside bar, shower facilities, and even a Jacuzzi!
At the middle of the airport stands this huge structure, marrying real and life-like plants and flowers, and fibre-optic and LED lighting. The towering glass bouquets holding the ferns and the flowers are majestic to look at, and make for great foreground and background for your photos.
Missing your home console? There’s an entertainment deck with Xbox Kinect and Playstation consoles, arcade machines, and computers for few minutes—or maybe even hours—of gaming. The console and games area operates from 6 a.m. to 12 midnight but the movie theatre is open 24 hours with a selection of movies. There’s also a similar entertainment deck at Terminal 4.
The Orchid Garden is an amazing display of more than 30 species of orchids, amounting to more than 700 flowering orchids arranged majestically at the heart of terminal 2. The lake in the middle of the garden is kept well that it houses several koi fishes, and there’s even a special orchid named Changi Airport Orchid in May 1997 to commemorate the opening of terminal 2.
Changi Airport’s sunflower nursery is located at the rooftop of terminal 2, and can produce up to 2000 sunflowers. There’s also a smoking area for those needing their nicotine fix, and benches to admire the view and the departing planes.
Terminal 3 is not as filled with attractions like the other terminals but it has the basic facilities for families like the child playground, interactive art area for kids, TV lounge, and a 24-hour movie theatre. There are also free lounge areas around with comfortable couches and USB ports for charging.
But throughout the year, there are special exhibits that are set-up inside Changi. During my visit in Singapore, I happened across the Wizarding World at Changi event, where I got to take photos with the installations depicting the Whomping Willow and Newt Scamander’s Menagerie, located at terminal 3.
The newest terminal among the four, terminal 4 houses this expansive heritage zone for a short culture fix before leaving Singapore. Get to experience the heritage of the Singapore Peranakan community in the photographs, artworks, and furniture displayed at the mini Peranakan museum, which was created in collaboration by the Changi Airport Group and National Heritage Board.
There’s also a cool multimedia display called the Peranakan Love Story, which features the tale of two lovers in 1930s Singapore. Check out what the multimedia display looks like below.
Are you ready to crawl and conquer Singapore's Changi Airport?
Featured images from @changiairport